Filling Our Buckets Mondate

Our day began with a journey to Green Thumb Farms in western Maine because we were curious about their native blueberry sod. We had hoped to see some, but that wasn’t to be and instead we were given a contact number for a sales rep. Our hope is to purchase a couple of pallets worth and use it as one more filter system at our camp in our continuing efforts to protect water quality. We recently learned that we qualified for a LakeSmart Award, but don’t want that to stop us from finding other ways to create a more lake-friendly property. Stay tuned on the sod because once we figure that out, it will be a story worth telling.

1-lunch spot, Eaton Village Store

From Green Thumb Farms we zigged and zagged along the back roads until we reached Eaton, New Hampshire. Lunch awaited at the Eaton Village Store on Route 153. Inside, one wall is covered with mailboxes and the post office. Grocery and gifty items are displayed in an aisle or two. And then there’s the lunch counter and a few tables for the eatery. A most pleasant eatery. The menu is simple, food fresh, and all served with a smile and conversation.

2-falling snow sign

Oh, and one more thing. They are eternal optimists! Or procrastinators like me. Heck, eventually there will be falling snow to watch for again.

3-Foss Mtn Trail

After lunch, we zigged and zagged again, winding our way up a road we once remember sliding down–in the winter on our bellies with our eight and ten year old sons in tow. Our destination today was much easier, though I did put the truck into four-wheel-drive to reach the trailhead parking lot for Foss Mountain. I’d told my guy about the blueberries and views and neither of us gave a thought to today’s weather for in the newspaper the forecast predicted it to be “rather” cloudy, “rather” being a rather unscientific term. It turned out to be more than “rather.” And raindrops fell, but still we went.

4-Foss Mtn Map

We examined the sign and my guy was thrilled with the possibilities.

6a-no picking

Some fields, however, were closed to public picking for a private operation leased those from the town.

5-Ryan Bushnell Blueberry Operation

Off to the side, we spied their sorting machines. Note the blueberry color of the equipment.

6-blueberry envy

And the abundance of blueberries.

7-hands in pockets

After testing a sample to make sure they were acceptable for human consumption, my guy stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid further temptation.

8-Joe Pye Weed all in disarray

Upward we journeyed, following the path of this property that is owned by the Town of Eaton. Along the way, a large patch of Joe Pye Weed shouted for attention, its petals disarrayed much like my own hair on this misty of days.

9-into the fog

The habitat changed and still we climbed–anticipation in every step my guy took at full speed.

10-pick blueberries sign

At the next natural community boundary, where conifers gave way to saplings and undergrowth, my guy rejoiced. At last we’d reached the promised land.

11-my guy disappeared ;-)

And immediately he stepped off the trail to find those tiny blue morsels that bring him such delight.

12-summit fog

While he picked, I headed toward the summit, where a blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for our focus zeroed in on what was before us rather than being swept up with the beyond.

14-my guy picking

From my place at the top, I could see him below–a mere speck intent on filling his bags to the brim.

15-erratic

I began to look around and felt an aura that made me feel as if I was in Ireland rather than New Hampshire. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared.

16-more colorful eratic

And the world before me opened up.

17-Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellitta

Like yellow caterpillars that are all the rage right now, Common Goldspeck Lichen inched across the granite face.

18-granite-speck rim lichen

Beside it, Granite-speck Rim Lichen stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art.

19-fog danced across ridge

Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.

19-my guy picked some more

And my guy found a new location and picked some more.

15-steeplebush

My attention turned to the Steeplebush, a spirea that grew abundantly at the summit, its flowers of pink offering a tiny splash of color to brighten any day.

25-American Copper Butterfly

The American Copper Butterfly and a bumblebee also found the Steeplebush much to their liking.

26-American Copper

And I, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from admiring this tiny butterfly and its beautiful markings.

28-American Copper Butterfly

From every angle that it posed while seeking nectar, I stood in awe–those striped antennae, giant black eyes, copper-silver color, and hairy scaled wings.

21-chipmunk

And then there was another, which I thought was a bird when I first heard it scamper out of the bushes.

22-chippie eating berries

But Chippie soon made himself known and I discovered that he, too, sought those little morsels so blue. Competition for my guy.

23-fog lifts a bit

Ever so slowly, the fog lifted a bit and even the sun tried to poke through for a moment or two. Still, my guy picked–somewhere. I couldn’t always see him, but trusted he was in the great beyond.

24-cedar waxwings

Much closer to me, three Cedar Waxwings circled the summit over and over again in a counter-clockwise pattern. Thankfully, they also paused, eyeing the potential for their own berry picking sights from the saplings on which they perched.

24-cedar wax wing bad hair day

I fell in love . . . with their range of colors:  cinnamon, black, gray, brown, red, yellow, and white. And the bad-hair day tufts, for like the Joe Pye Weed, the Cedar Waxwings and I also shared a resemblance.

29-My guy finishing up

At last my guy finished up, though not before standing on a yonder piece of granite, looking west and calling for me. “I’m up here, behind you,” I shouted softly into an almost silent world, where the only sounds came from cicadas and crickets and occasionally the Cedar Waxwings.

30-blueberry caterpillars

As we made our way down, he stopped again for about a half hour to pick some more in a spot he’d noted on the way up. And I looked around, discovering other blueberry lovers among us–Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars were slowly stripping some bushes of their greenery.

35-blueberries!

At last we passed by the forbidden fields, where my guy later confessed he felt like we were in Eden.

31-Burnt Meadow Blueberries in operation

Ryan Bushnell of Burnt Meadow Blueberries was at work, raking and sorting the sweet morsels of blue.

32-Blueberries!

It was his business to make sure each pint would be filled by day’s end.

33-Filling the buckets

We wanted to chat with him more about the operation, but he was intent upon working and so after the initial greeting and a few more words, we knew it was time to move on. Mr. Bushnell’s buckets would be filled over and over again. (And I suspected that upon seeing this operation, my guy, should he ever decide to retire from his hardware business, may just ask to work in the field–the blueberry field.)

Our buckets were full as well–for my guy, it was bags of blueberries to freeze for future consumption. For me, it was all that I saw as I poked about the summit, thankful that I wasn’t distracted by the 360˚ view. We did indeed fill our buckets on this Mondate.

 

A Berry Pleasant Mountain Hike

Thirty-two years ago I moved to Maine (the only place I’ve ever lived where the number of years counts as bragging rights) and Pleasant Mountain quickly figured into my life. The first day I drove past it on Route 302, I was killing time before a job interview and one look at Moose Pond with the mountain looming over it and I knew I very much wanted to live here. A couple of days later, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for and principal Larry Thompson said it was only a matter of formality that my name go before the school board. By the next week, I was packing up in New Hampshire and making my way further north. I’d found a place to live that meant I’d pass by the mountain on my way to and from school each day. And then that October I attended a Halloween party with friends at the ski lodge of what was then called Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. I was an olive and I met this guy dressed as a duck hunter. Turns out he’d never been duck hunting, but had a great duck puppet and he could turn its head with the stick within. He certainly turned my head!

Thus began the journey with my guy. Our first hike together–up the Southwest Trail of Pleasant Mountain. That first winter, he taught me to downhill ski, well sorta. My way of turning that first time included falling as I neared the edge of the trail, shifting my body once I was down on the snow, begging for the components of a steak dinner, rising and skiing across at a diagonal to the opposite side only to repeat my performance. Dinner was great that night! And well deserved.

Time flashed forward four years, and at noon on August 4, 1990, we were married; our reception in the Treehouse Lounge at the Ski Resort. In all the years since we first met and then were married and beyond, we’ve skied (though I have managed to avoid that concept more recently) together and with our sons before their abilities outgrew mine, snowshoed and hiked and grown only fonder of the place we call home. Our intention yesterday was to climb the mountain in celebration of our 28th anniversary, but the weather gods outpouring of moisture was not in our favor.

Today, however, dawned differently and so mid-morning we made our way with a plan to hike up the Bald Peak Trail, across the ridge to the summit, and down the Ledges Trail. We’d left the truck at the Ledges, ever mindful that the last thing we want to do after climbing down the mountain is to walk 1.5 miles to reach our vehicle.

1-heading up

As I’ve done over and over again in the past 32 years, I followed my guy–over rocks and roots and bald granite faces.

2-Pinesap

Once in a while I announced the need for a stop because my Nature Distraction Disorder ticked into action. In this case, it was Pine-sap, or Monotropa hypopitysMono meaning once and tropa turned; hypopitys for its habitat under a pine or fir. Also called Dutchmen’s Pipe, this is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of a host tree. It doesn’t enter the host directly, but through a fungal intermediary. And like Indian Pipe, it has no green tissues. It differs from I.P. in two ways, its yellow color as compared to white, and two to eleven flowers versus a single flower. In my book of life, both Pine-sap and Indian Pipe are great finds.

3-Moose Pond below

I didn’t let my NDD get the better of me too often on the way up. It was extremely humid and so we did stop frequently, but also kept a pace that worked for both of us and soon emerged onto the ridge where a look back through the red and white pines revealed a peek of the causeway that crosses Moose Pond.

5-hidden camp

Employing the telephoto lens, I spied our camp hidden among the trees, only the dock and our little boat showing. It’s amazing how obvious all the neighboring camps seemed when viewed from up high.

7-ridge line trail

After the climb up, the ridge always seems a cinch as the pathway wanders through blueberries, pines and oaks.

6-lunch rock

At last we found lunch rock, a place to pause in the shade and enjoy our PB&J sandwiches. We’d packed cookies for dessert, but decided to save those for later. My guy, however, had accidentally unpacked my work backpack and discovered a few pieces of a dark chocolate KitKat–my stash when I’m tired at the end of the day and need a pick-me-up before driving home. It looks like the purchase of another KitKat is in my near future for we topped off the sandwiches with a sweet treat.

8-picking blueberries

After lunch, my guy’s eyes focused in on one thing only. That is after he moved away from his original spot behind the rock we’d sat upon for our repose. Unwittingly, he’d stirred up a yellow jacket nest and managed to walk calmly away, only one bee stinging his leg.

14-blueberries

While his attention was on the gold at his feet–in the form of low-bush blueberries, I turned my lens in a variety of directions. Oh, I helped pick. A. Wee. Bit.

9-Lake Darner Dragongly

But there were other things to see as well and this dragonfly was a new one for me. A few highlights of this beauty: Do you notice the black cross line in the middle of the face. And on the thoracic side stripe, do you see the deep notch?

10-Lake Darner Dragonfly

Both of those characteristics helped in ID: Meet a Lake Darner. Even the male claspers at the tip of the abdomen are key, for they’re paddle-shaped and thicker toward the end. Though he didn’t pause often, Lake Darners are known to perch vertically on tree trunks. I was in awe.

11-grasshopper

All the while we were on the ridge, the Lake Darners flew about, their strong wing beats reminiscent of hummingbirds, so close did they come to our ears that we could hear the whir. And then there was another sound that filled the summer air with a saw-like buzziness–snapping and crackling as they flew. I couldn’t capture their flight for so quick and erratic it was, but by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings, the grasshoppers performed what’s known in the sound world as crepitation. Crepitation–can’t you almost hear the snap as you pronounce the word?

12-coyote scat

It wasn’t just insects that caught my eye, for I found a fine specimen of coyote scat worth noting for it was full of hair and bones. It was a sign bespeaking age, health, availability, and boundaries.

12A

Turns out, it wasn’t the only sign in the area and whenever we hike the trails on Pleasant Mountain these days, we give thanks to Loon Echo Land Trust for preserving so much of it. According to the land trust’s website: “Currently, Loon Echo owns 2,064 mountain acres and protects an additional 24 acres through conservation easements.”

13-picking some more

Our time on the ridge passed not in nano seconds, for my guy was intent on his foraging efforts. I prefer to pick cranberries, maybe because they are bigger and bring quicker satisfaction as one tries to fill a container. But, he leaves no leaf unturned. And enjoys the rewards on yogurt or the possible muffin if his wife is so kind, until late in the winter.

15-middle basin of Moose Pond

As we slowly moved above the middle basin of Moose Pond, I found other berries growing there.

14-lingonberries

Among them, lingonberries were beginning to ripen. They grow low to the ground, below the blueberries, and resemble little cranberries. In fact, some call them mountain cranberries. Like blueberries, they like acidic, well-drained soil. For all the leaves, however, there were few fruits and I had to wonder if the birds were enjoying a feast.

16-huckleberries

Huckleberries also grow there, though not quite as abundantly as along our shorefront on Moose Pond. They’re seedier than blueberries, though the local squirrels don’t seem to mind. Both red and gray harvest them constantly as they move throughout the vegetated buffer in front of camp.

17-summit fire tower

It took some convincing, but finally my guy realized that we needed to move on and so we gradually made our way to the summit, where the once useful fire tower still stands as a monument to an era gone by.

18-summit view in the haze

Our pause wasn’t too long for so strong was the sun. And hazy the view, Kearsarge showed its pointed profile to the left, but Mount Washington remained in hiding today.

19-ledges view of Moose Pond's southern basin

The journey down was rather quick. Perhaps because we were so tired, it felt like we just rolled down. But we did stop to admire the view of the southern bay of Moose Pond in Denmark. Our intention was also to eat the cookies we’d packed once we reached this point. Through both bags we hunted to no avail. I remembered packing the cookies under our sandwiches. And then moving the sandwiches to the second pack, but leaving the cookies. Did we accidentally take them out after all? Were they on the kitchen counter? In the truck? The final answer was no on all fronts. We think we must have taken them out at lunch rock and they never made it back into the pack. I had moved the backpacks with great calmness once we discovered the yellow jacket nest. Just maybe the yellow jackets are dining on some lemon cookies. Perhaps it was our unintended peace offering.

20-hiking down following this guy

After a five plus hour tour, filled with blueberries and sweat, I followed my guy down. We’ve spent the greater part of our lives following in each other’s footsteps and it’s a journey we continue to cherish, especially on our favorite hometown mountain.

Here’s to many more Berry Pleasant Mountain Hikes with my guy.

 

 

 

A’pondering We Will Go

August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

j1-pickerel frog

That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.

j2-Sucker Brook

After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.

j3-Colleen

Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .

j4-Bob

photograph . . .

j6-Judy

and write.

j7-heron

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.

j8-heron

We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.

j9-heron

And narrowing in . . .

j10-heron and fish

on lunch.

j11-wings

When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”

j12-securing the catch

But thankfully, the bird stayed.

j13-lunch

And played with its food.

j14-lunch making its way down

Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.

j15-gulp

And swallowed.

j16-down the throat it goes

Down the throat it slid.

j16-feathers ruffled

And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.

j17-movement

Wing motion followed.

j18-searching

But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.

j19-next course

And stalked some more.

j20-Isaiah

We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.

j21-the journalists

If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.

j22-owl pellet

On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.

j22-Pam reading what she wrote

We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.

j23-Judy reading her poem

Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.

j24-Ann's landscape sketch with heron

Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.

j25-stump and lichen

And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.

A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.

 

 

Island Hopping Mondate

Paddling together in “Big News,” our double kayak so named for it was a gift from the Neubigs many moons ago (thank you, Carissa and Bob), is one of our favorite summer pastimes. With wrist almost fully mended, it’s an even sweeter journey for me because it means I don’t have to work hard.

1-prepping the kayak

And so it was that my guy prepped Big Red for today’s journey–an exploration of the northern basin of Moose Pond. The “pond” is a 1,697 water body with a 33.3 mile perimeter that’s broken into three sections. We know the north best, which offers about a four-mile round-trip journey from camp up into the islands of Sweden. The other section that we don’t visit as often, but do enjoy exploring, is the southern section in Denmark, for it’s equally interesting.

2-BLUEBERRIES!

Today, though, my guy had a mission worth gold in mind–to make some headway on his blueberry greed.

6-yellow-necked caterpillars

Along the way we discovered an interesting sight. Our friend, and pond neighbor from the western shore, Lili Fox, asked yesterday if I could identify some yellow and black caterpillars. After a wee bit of research, I suggested Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars. I didn’t expect to meet them quite so soon myself, but immediately recognized the group that clustered at the tip of a blueberry twig. At first, they seemed immobilized, but then I realized they were in the defense form that I’ve witnessed with other caterpillars, curling outward to form a U. I’d just picked a few berries below and so they saw me as prime predator. Fortunately, no attack was made.

8-yellownecked 2

Overall, they have yellow and black stripes, but it’s the yellow segment or neck behind their black heads for which they were named. These very hungry caterpillars were reaching maturity and soon should drop to the ground. They’ll apparently overwinter burrowed below as pupa and emerge in adult form next year.

10a-fluffy yellownecked

I assumed that those with the most wiry hair were the oldest. We probably should have shaken them off the branches and into the water, but we didn’t. Nature knows what to do and some will become a food source for wasps or birds, passing along the energy contained in the blueberry leaves to another level.

3-variable dancer damselfly

In the meantime, I became the Yellow-necked Lookout Warden as my guy continued to pick. Accompanying me with his own bulbous set of eyes was a male Variable Dancer Damselfly.

4-spreadwing

The damselflies actually could care less about the caterpillars and more about finding a mate and so they all posed, either on the kayak, or nearby vegetation.

5-orange bluet damselflies

Both turned out to be the right substrate on which to perform mating rituals, this being a pair of Orange Bluet Damselflies on the kayak.

7-emerald spreadwings canoodling

And Emerald Spreadwings offering a reflection on the pond of their canoodling efforts.

10-heading north

At last we continued further north, island hopping along the way.

12-Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly

Though their natural communities all looked similar, with each stop came a different offering, including the Eastern Pondhawk that displayed one of my favorite combinations of color-sky blue pond green.

13-EAstern Pondhawk

Eye to eye, we contemplated each other. I have no idea what he thought of me. Well, actually, I’ve no idea if dragonflies can think. Is all their action instinctive? As for my thoughts, I didn’t want to gobble him up in a literal fashion, but wish I could have taken him with me so I could continue to stare, infatuated with his colors as I was. On his thorax I saw a watercolor painting reflecting a sunny day by the pond.

14-Floating Heart Plant

Another island and another find–the delicate flower of a Floating Heart Plant.

14-bullfrog on lily pad

And then a frog on a lily pad, a young frog that is.

15-bullfrog froglet

If you look closely, you may see her tail extending behind. I couldn’t help but think that she’s got big feet to grow into.

16-beaver lodge

Beside one of the last islands we visited, we saw that the neighborhood had changed quite recently and a new house had been built. Though none of the residents came out to greet us, we weren’t surprised. Based on the greenery and wet mud we suspected they’d been busy as beavers all night and needed a rest.

17-beaver island

A quick look around and we knew the source of their building materials. It reminded us that they’ve been secret visitors to our land in the past and have helped themselves to young saplings much to our dismay. Then again, it is their land as well. We’re just the ones who pay the taxes.

11-spadderdock with damselfly exuvia

Of course, no water adventure is complete without a photo of Spatterdock, this one featuring a damselfly exuvia.

17-fragrant water lily

And Fragrant Water Lily. That rayed presentation. Those prominent yellow stamens. The symmetry. And, of course, the fragrance.

18-honeybee

What could be better than the two together? The two together with small flies on one and a honey bee, its buckets full, visiting the other.

19-painted turtle

At last, it was well after lunch, which we’d neglected to pack and my wrist was sore, so my guy said he’d paddle us home. And because we’d startled a turtle earlier, he said he’d find one for me. Wow! Both the turtle and I were impressed.

20-turtle basking

As turtles do, he stretched out his back legs demonstrating how they need to capture additional heat given that they are cold-blooded animals. Basking helps them to absorb warmth and vital UV rays.

21-waving goodbye

What he did next surprised us. He began to wave his front left leg–I took it as a goodbye, but it was probably either a way to push an insect toward his mouth or an aggressive move telling us to move on. We did, heading back to camp as we finished up our Island Hopping Mondate.

 

 

Queen of the Butterflies

At the beginning of July, the Common Milkweed that I’m allowing to grow more abundantly in my herb garden began to blossom, its hypnotic scent filling the air with an almost honey-like fragrance.

m1a-milkweed flowers

Being close to the Fourth of July in its blooming, the milkweed’s formation reminded me of the fireworks that filled the sky over and over again. I only wish those had been as silent as the milkweed.

m2-ants and honeybees

Then again, it was hardly silent or unnoticed for the bees and ants sought the sugary nectar stored in the shell-shaped structures.

m4-honeybee

So few honeybees have I seen all summer, but as long as the milkweed was in bloom, I noticed four of them probing for the goodness hidden within.

m8-wasp

Visitors were from every ilk, some with striped bodies,

m9-tachinid fly

and others covered in spiky hairs.

m7-skipper

The pollinators included skippers . . .

m1-swallowtail butterfly

and swallowtails.

m5-red milkweed beetle and ant

Upon the plants’ leaves were Red Milkweed Beetles, this one being checked out by an ant. The bright red coloration announced the beetle’s distastefulness for he’s one of the few insects that can feed on the leaves of milkweed, store the plant’s defense chemicals and assure that he won’t be consumed.

m6-ant climbs over red milkweed beetle

The ant apparently discovered the beetle wasn’t worth dealing with and so climbed over it and moved on. Or maybe the beetle had accidentally rubbed against some nectar and the ant was attracted to it–for all of a second.

m10-honeybee

The milkweed flowers in my garden began to die back, but this week I discovered another place where they grow abundantly. And at least one honeybee recognized the same.

m17-red milkweed beetles

As did more long-horned Red Milkweed Beetles, and now rather than finding only one, I’ve noticed there often appear to be two working in unison to ensure a continuation of their species.

m15-monarch on dogbane

 

And much to my delight, I spotted sipping nectar from the Spreading Dogbane that grows beside the milkweed, a Monarch Butterfly.

m14-monarchs fluttering

And it wasn’t just one Monarch. I can’t say how many I saw in total, but I watched them for a while as they floated over the meadow flowers in their flap, flap . . .

m21-monarch and shadow

glide routine, sometimes chasing each other or their own shadow before alighting.

m13-monarch puddling

Like the Clouded Sulphurs I noticed the other day, the Monarchs too sought nutrients from the gravel road, their mouthparts, aka proboscises, extended in search of minerals.

m22-probiscus curled

When not in use, the tubular and flexible straw that serves as a mouth curled inward, retracted as it would be during flight.

m16-viceroy butterfly

Also in the area, because it too likes the nectar of the milkweeds and other flowers offering a sweet meal, was the Monarch mimic, a Viceroy. The differences between the two: Viceroys have a wing span of about 2-3 inches, while Monarchs’ span is 3-4. And Viceroys have a black horizontal stripe that crosses near the bottom of its back wings. Well, actually, it looks more diagonal. And really, who came first? The Monarch or the Viceroy?

m19-silvery checkerspot butterfly

Also present because it too feeds on native milkweeds, a few small Silvery Checkerspot Butterflies, their wing span less than two inches.

m20-silvery checkerspot butterfly

And they also sought those road nutrients, so suffice it to say, its a butterfly habit . . . at least in this neck of the woods.

m24-milweed tussock moth caterpillars

I had to eventually leave the road and meadow behind and run home to grab something, which meant an opportunity to check on my milkweed plants. Those in the kitchen garden hosted some Red Milkweed Beetles, but that was the most interesting thing I saw, besides the fact that the dried flowers were transforming into warty green seedpods. But by the front door, where more milkweed grows, I noticed first a pile of caterpillar scat on a leaf. Getting down on my knees to look underneath, I spotted a mature Milkweed Tussock Moth and its larvae feeding.

m24-tiny monarch caterpillar

And then my heart was still, for I found a tiny Monarch caterpillar.

m25-adult monarch caterpillar

And near it, one that had been very hungry and seemed to have stopped eating. I can’t wait to check again and see if it’s still there–only in a transformed stage.

m26-two monarch caterpillars

As I continued to look, there were more, these two clearly munching away.

m29-munching leaves like an ear of corn

They reminded me of humans eating corn on the cob for it seemed they moved back and forth as they chomped on the plant’s leaves. Monarchs, and other butterflies that feed on the green leaves in their caterpillar form, are like the Red Milkweed Beetle in that they can tolerate the chemicals and it makes them not tasty to predators.

m27-medium-sized monarch caterpillar

Everywhere I looked, I began to see Monarch caterpillars in various stages of growth.

m30-probiscus curlced

My hope is that I’ll discover chrysalises as I continue to search and eventually our yard and flower gardens and the field beyond will be full of the queen of the butterflies:  Monarchs.

 

 

Dear Clouded Sulphur

Just as a butterfly goes through a life cycle known as complete metamorphosis with stages including egg, larva, pupa, and adult, so is the poem you are about to read.

p3

You see, last week, I had the honor of attending a poetry workshop at Hewnoaks Artist Colony co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library. After listening to poet Judith Steinbergh share her poetry and the works of others, and listening to her talk about form as she laid eggs in our minds, we were sent off for a half hour to write our own nature-inspired poem. It was raining lightly at that time and my larva stage was a celebration of the rain that made the aspen quiver with joyous sighs and the lichens transform like a chameleon. When the group came back together and we read our first attempts to each other, I ended by mentioning that I wanted to somehow work the Clouded Sulphur, a small yellow butterfly, into my great work. And then, over the course of the past week, the larva began to mature, to pupate as I wrote draft after draft and suddenly the poem was only about the Clouded Sulphur. Yet, the language wasn’t quite working and though I sent a copy to Judy, and she responded with the most encouraging comments, and then I sent another draft, and again she was encouraging, I told her that I didn’t intend to read my draft at the evening celebration of poetry. The celebration was planned for last night.

As I often do in the summer, I awoke at 5:30 yesterday morning, brewed a pot of coffee, sat in the rocking chair on the porch and realized I was ready to write about the butterfly in an entirely different form. The words flowed forth and what you read is maybe not the adult, or even a teenager, but perhaps a ‘tween and I know my habit of revising constantly so perhaps one day this poem will reach full adulthood.

But for now, after such a long explanation, here is what I wrote and was actually brave enough to read last night:

Dear Clouded Sulphur,

As I walk
along the gravel road,
I suddenly realize
I am not alone.
Oh,
there are bees and birds
and dragonflies and grasshoppers
to admire,
but you capture
my full attention.

h16-clouded sulphur butterfly
I notice first
your buttery yellow wings
tinged with a hint of lime,
and margined
ever so slightly
in a subtle pink.
And then I see
your bright green eyes
that remind me of my own
when I spot a buffet and don’t know
which delectable choice
to first taste.

h19-field
So it seems
you are the same
as you dance
over the meadow flowers,
your wings flitting
up and down, up and down,
before you suck nectar
from one clover
and then another.

h18-dark band on upperside of wings
That’s when I notice
the thick black border
upon the topside
of your wings.
Why do you hide it,
only allowing glimpses
in a quick
flash of flight?
Perhaps you feel
it will draw
too much attention?
If that’s the case,
I understand,
for as it is,
I see only
you at first.
And then a sibling. Or is it a cousin?
The relationship
doesn’t matter.
What matters is
that my eyes cue in
and I realize
I am encircled
by you
and all your kin.
In fact,
I no longer know
which one you are,
but that’s fine,
for it is
more important
that you’ve made
me notice.

h17-butterflies puddling

What I thought
was one butterfly
becomes two
and then five,
and suddenly
seven of you
gather upon the road
where only moments
earlier
a few raindrops
slipped from the sky
and dampened the pebbles.
As I watch,
all of you pause,
then fly
at different moments
to a new spot
within the same small square,
and pause again,
dazzling me
with flashes
of your subtle palette,
I realize
you are puddling.

h21
For the first time
I begin to understand
what “puddling”
actually means
as your extended
mouthparts probe.
The road that seems
so dirty and dusty
to my blue eyes,
your green eyes
recognize
as a source
of the nutrients
you seek.
And though there isn’t
an actual puddle,
mere raindrops
appear to provide
what you need.
But do they?
Are you able
to extract
enough minerals
to share
with your gal?
That’s beyond
my understanding,
but I continue
to watch
for as long as I can.
I wish I could stay all day,
so welcoming
have you been.
Alas, I must
pull myself away.
But before I do,
I want to say
thank you.
Thank you, C.S.,
for capturing
my attention
and allowing me
to observe
a few moments
of your butterfly life.
Thank you
for your minute presence
as you twirl and pivot
in this very place,
for your being here
indicates
a healthy environment.
Despite the lack of rain,
you find goodness
and in so doing,
share good news.

h22-hidden
With that knowledge,
I take my leave
with a smile
upon my heart.

Sincerely,

Leigh

Mondate Made for Ducks

We didn’t know what we were going to do when the day dawned in all shades of gray.  With the forecast suggesting thunderstorms in almost any hour, we decided it wouldn’t be a day for boating or hiking.

w1-Wolfeboro

Finally, after chores, errands, and lunch, we drove a wee bit west and then south to Lake Winnipesaukee, my old stomping grounds of almost forty years ago. On the way, we passed through variations of the same theme: gray skies, gentle raindrops, flash downpours. But when we arrived, though the raindrops still fell, blue sky and a slew of clouds offered a beautiful mottled reflection upon the water’s surface.

w2-Wolfeboro sign

We’d decided to explore Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, a town with a year-round population not much bigger than our own. Like all resort towns in New England, however, it swells in size during the summer months. The same is true here in Maine. And on rainy days, the downtown is always full.

w3--approaching the water

Despite all the tourists, the locals do like to hang out at their favorite spots.

w3-mallard looking down

And check on all the action.

w4-on the dock

Some prefer to preen.

w5-reaching under the wing

Can’t you just feel the goodness of this action–grooming those feathers to keep them in the best condition?

w6-even deeper under the wing

With so many feathers to cope, whether to moisturize with oil to keep them flexible and strong, to align for waterproofing and insulation–especially against the heat of the summer sun, to arrange aerodynamically for future flights, or to remove parasites and body lice that may carry diseases, it’s all part of a day’s work on the waterfront.

w7-in the lake

Even those in the water, both mallards and American black ducks, were not immune to the action of the hour.

w8-taking a bath

In order to reach every feather and nibble or stroke it from base to tip to get it aligned just so, ducks become contortionists as they assume odd positions.

w9-shaking it off

And after, they shake, shake, shake, their feathers falling into place as if according to a greater plan.

w9-meeting Daffy

As the rain subsided and sun shone forth, we did a bit of nibbling ourselves, on ice cream cones. It turned out nibbling on ice cream and any other human food was not allowed for the ducks per signage, but that didn’t keep them from sampling the flora of a nearby park.

w10-nose decorations

One forager in particular, came away with an arrangement that reminded me of the Easter bonnets we used to wear when we were kids. I could almost hear the Irving Berlin song, Easter Parade:

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.
On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade.

w12-into the hardware store

We left that parade route and made our way through town, pausing as one might expect at the local family-owned hardware store. Of course, my guy felt right at home and spent some time chatting with the owner as they compared products and store layout.

w12-view out the window

I admired the view of the birdhouses on a sill.

w13-signs about town

Back on the road, we noticed one beautiful garden after another in front of each shop and some bore signs worth sharing: May Peace Prevail On Earth. Indeed.

w13-rain

Eventually, the sky opened again and sent forth its refreshing goodness. We’ve been in need of rain as we’ve been experiencing a moderate drought and so celebrated the nourishment it brought to the earth and us as well.

w15-rainsdrops and blue sky

Then, with a mad dash, we ran back to the truck, noting the rain drops juxtaposed against the blue sky.

w16-duck salad

It was certainly a Mondate made for ducks, especially those who liked to wear their bonnets made from foraged salad on their bills.